Disney Loses Florida Dems' Fundraiser Over 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Controversy

The Florida Democratic Party has pulled an annual fundraising event scheduled to be held at Walt Disney World following the controversy over Disney's response to the state's controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Hours after the party's LGBTQ+ caucus said it would skip the event in protest, the party chair issued a statement declaring their intent to reschedule and move the event, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The legislation has led to protests and walkouts among Disney employees who have voiced their frustration over the company's slow response in condemning the bill.

Stephen Gaskill, head of the party's LGBTQ+ caucus, called the fact that the annual "Leadership Blue" event was still scheduled to take place during Pride Month in June "tone deaf," and urged the party to "read the room" and either cancel or move the event, the Times reported.

"Our timing was not ideal. We also acknowledge that in our fight for freedom and fairness, we can always do more," Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz said in a statement Tuesday. "In that spirit, the Florida Democratic Party will choose new dates and venues to hold Leadership Blue. We will share information about new arrangements once we have explored available options."

The controversy also drew comment from other state officials, including Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is also the only statewide elected Democrat in office and may run against Governor Ron DeSantis in November. Fried said Tuesday that she was "grateful" to Diaz and the party for listening to concerns and changing the venue.

Disney Florida Democrats Fundraiser
The Florida Democratic Party has announced plans to move an annual fundraiser out of Walt Disney World following controversy over the company's response to the state's controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill. Above, the Magic Kingdom park is seen on October 8, 2014. Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images

Prior to the announcement that the event would be moved, Fried criticized Disney's response to the bill as "tepid, short-sighted and disappointing at best...it's my hope that Disney will do everything they can to address the needs and complaints of their employees in the future."

Other candidates in the Democratic primary for governor, including Florida Congressman Charlie Crist initially refused to comment, and later said that it was "prudent" for the event to change locations given the current "timing and conversation" around Disney.

The Parental Rights in Education bill, which has been labeled by critics as "Don't Say Gay" bill, passed the Florida Senate earlier this month after passing through the House in February and is expected to be signed by DeSantis, who has been publicly supportive of the bill.

Supporters of the bill have said that the intended purpose—restricting the teaching of concepts related to sexual orientation and gender identity to third grade or younger students—is reasonable and claimed that conversations about those sensitive topics should be left to parents to have with their children.

Critics, however, have said that the bill could lead to students being punished for discussing their own sexual orientation or gender identity, or that of their family members, and reinforces the discriminatory idea that there is something abnormal or wrong about being part of the LGBTQ+ community that requires it to be hidden from children.

"We call it the 'Don't Say Gay' bill because it prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity," Representative Carlos Smith, an openly gay member of the Florida House, said during the House debate. "But members, this bill goes way beyond the text on the page. It sends a terrible message to our youth, that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction."

Disney, one of the largest and most influential companies in the U.S. and especially Florida, the location of the Walt Disney World theme park, faced weeks of criticism and calls for protests and boycotts because of a slow public response to the bill. Disney CEO Bob Chapek eventually apologized to employees within the company, and reportedly privately lobbied DeSantis not to sign the bill after it was passed by the legislature.

Newsweek reached out to Disney for comment.

Update 03/23/22, 7:10 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information.